Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Savoring a wee bit o’ Guinness at work…

I’ve always identified with Irish culture for some reason. I’m not sure why. Like many Canadians, I can reach back into my genealogy and extract an Irish root or two, but the reality is my Dutch and British lineage remain closer to the surface.

I think it’s the Irish traditional music that most stirs me. I’m not one to be coaxed onto the dance floor easily, but when I hear the sound of Irish music playing — usually in a pub — my otherwise rhythmically disinclined body is compelled to move with the beat. Like a self-possessed metronome, my foot cannot resist the siren call to keep time with the music.

My first exposure to Irish culture was during my university days as a very green undergrad student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Known for both its talented pool of local musicians and density of bars and pubs packed into a relatively tight downtown core, an evening out at a Halifax pub (or pubs) was (and still is) THE thing to do starting on a Thursday night and continuing on into the weekend. While pubs and bars have come and gone over the years, some venerable ones remain like the Lower Deck on the Halifax waterfront — a must-do experience for the first-time Halifax visitor.

Despite my affinity for Irish culture, I  have yet to actually set foot on the Emerald Isle. The closest I’ve come was this past spring when I had an opportunity to go to Dublin with my sister, who had to be in Ireland for some international business meetings. Were the airlines tickets more affordable in the context of a week-long stay, I would’ve taken advantage of this chance to visit Europe for the first time. Alas, it was not to be. My sister did go, however, and did enjoy her brief, first-time trip to Europe. Unfortunately, she is not so identified with Irish culture as me and also has little interest in photography, so the images I have of Ireland remain those that I have collected and stored away in my imagination over the years through books, movies (e.g., Leap Year and a very handsome-scruffy Matthew Goode), photos, and magazines.

One of my friends at work, who married an ex-pat Irishman (whom, I imagine has a lovely accent), recently returned home from a five-week family trip in Ireland. I can’t wait to catch up with her, and hear how her trip was, what adventures she had, and if she ran into any Gerard Butler look-alikes (yes, I know he is actually Scottish, but he did play an Irishman quite convincingly in P.S. I Love You, a movie whose only redeeming quality was the presence of Gerard Butler and Jeffrey Dean Morgan) or Allan Hawco à la Love & Savagery (very charming Irish-Canadian film collab).

In any event, I was on the phone when my friend popped by my cube to deliver some Irish bounty — a dark chocolate bar. I was intrigued: a real Irish chocolate bar! I don’t think of Ireland when I think of European chocolate. And Guinness?.. I do recall having once come across a recipe for a chocolate layer cake, in which Guinness was specified as an ingredient… Normally, I hate beer, but maybe all it needs is a little chocolate…

My morning half-pint

Since I had made it to mid-morning without a single chocolate pick-me-up after the requisite dose at breakfast (selected from my always well-stocked dark chocolate stash— and no, we’re not talking Cocoa Puffs or Nutella, or any of that other fake stuff masquerading as chocolate), I carefully unwrapped the bar. Within seconds, my cube started to smell like D’Arcy McGee’s or The Old Triangle! That’s all I needed: my manager thinking I had gone all James Joyce or Ernest Hemingway with my tortured technical writing assignments. Just how much Guinness was in this bar, I wondered — after quickly devouring two squares…

For a moment, I was transported back in time to that enchanting, rainy, cold, fall afternoon along Wellington Street in Ottawa when the remnants of Hurricane Juan were kicking up a blustery storm of wet, fall leaves. We were soaked, my tall, dark, handsome, eloquent Irishman and me, after an afternoon spent playing tourist at the Parliament buildings, Supreme Court, and Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. We had decided to head over to D’Arcy McGee’s to warm up. It was the first time I tasted Guinness. Michael had insisted I take a sip from his pint. Not wanting to disappoint, I raised the glass to my lips and took the most skeptical of micro-sized sips. I remember how it tasted as burnt as it looked. Michael just laughed and said it was an acquired taste. I told him I’d stick to my hot chocolate and warm, chocolate lava cake…

Hmmm… No amounts listed on the ingredient list. I decided to err on the side of caution and not imbibe — I mean, eat — anymore and risk having HR refer me to the Employee Assistance Program for a drinking problem. I put the bar to one side of my desk with a single piece of paper over it like an alcoholic trying to conceal his liquor in paper bag, hoping the scent of Guinness would be somehow magically stifled. It wasn’t.

I was sure my cubemates in the adjacent cube would soon catch a whiff of that unmistakable scent and get up to check who had brought in liquor to work. I should say, that if I actually worked in a non-geeky job, I would be the very last person people would consider as the bootlegger or closet-alcoholic. However, my job being the inherently geeky job it is, geekiness is all relative; the only uncertainty is just where along the geekiness spectrum I fall. I finally hit upon a decidedly non-creative plan, but a plan, nonetheless. I would stuff my bar into my filing cabinet where I also stored my purse and coat. Problem solved — I would keep the thing sealed and out of sight for the rest of the day.

Because of a series of protracted, severe thunderstorms that hit the city in the waning hours of the afternoon, I decided to wait out the inclement weather since I was without coat or umbrella (not that that would’ve been too wise to use in a thunderstorm), had come by bike, and also had to peddle through a densely treed park on my way home. Two hours later, I finally decide to take my chances and venture home as hunger has now trumped fear. I reach for my stored backpack and purse and note the pub-like ambience that hits me again as I open the cupboard to my locker — henceforth, pub door. I hastily stuff the chocolate booze bar into my purse and quickly and steathily make my way out of the office, grateful that only the last diehards of the geek squad remain…

May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and a smooth road all the way to your door. 

Sláinte!

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An Adam Gopnik-inspired afternoon in the park

Ottawa is a city of hidden gems, I have discovered. Having arrived here almost four years ago (somewhat skeptically) from my beloved Montreal via a short lay-over in my hometown of southern New Brunswick, I had my own preconceived notions of what life in Ottawa would be like. A staid city of stuffy government workers and politicians and extreme athletes with no artistic sensibility, no doubt. The antithesis to Montreal. Well, I wasn’t entirely wrong about the existence of some stuffy government people and extreme athletes, but Ottawa is (surprisingly) so much more than that. Among its many attributes, including a vibrant arts community and flourishing food scene, it boasts some lovely green spaces, particularly urban parks. Happily for this nature-loving, ex-pat Maritimer, many of  these parks also include waterways where all manner of paddling activities can be enjoyed either through direct participation or on-shore observation.

One one recent, sunny, hot Saturday afternoon, I was invited to join my aunt and my cousin’s toddler (=my first cousin once removed?) at ‘their’ park. Knowing I was taking a photography course, my aunt thought it would be an opportunity for me to hone my skills in shooting some action or unposed portrait photography with my (borrowed) DSLR Nikon (D40) camera. At the same time, I would be able to capture some of those precious, fleeting moments shared between a devoted nanna and her wide-eyed, energetic granddaughter.

This park was their urban oasis or ‘secret garden’ to which they ventured every day to play since the apartment building in which they resided only had minimal green space, a trade-off that many urban-dwellers accept in order to live in the city instead of the outlying suburbs. I had not spent any amount of time in this park, other than enjoying a lovely, crisp, winter walk along the snowy river paths with my aunt one late January afternoon. Even then with its bare trees and frozen ground, the park was beautiful, and so I did not hesitate to join them on this summer July day.

Below are a selection of pictures that I took, originally shot in color, but which I transformed into black & white using Photoshop. (I have a real penchant for the artistry of black & white photography.) I shot well over 200 pictures, wanting to ensure I ended up with some good pictures in the bunch. A mid-afternoon outing, it was challenging at times adjusting the exposure to fit the changing light conditions. I also should have increased my shutter speed to freeze the motion on the swings and capture the elusive, parsimonious smiles instead of slowing my shutter speed in a bid to show motion through a blur; these pictures did not turn out, unfortunately. However, there were (thankfully) quite a few others I did like; among them a couple of color photos that just had to be retained as color images in order to appreciate their full effect.  Throughout my largely successful attempts at being the unobtrusive, roving photographer, I was struck by how the scenes playing out before me kept reminding me of the wonderful imagery described so eloquently by Adam Gopnik in his highly acclaimed memoir — Paris to the Moon — of his years spent living in Paris with his family and raising his young son. Ottawa is definitely not Paris but this park had a certain charm to it, perhaps not unlike that of the famous Jardin du Luxembourg, where Adam Gopnik would take his son to play.

Getting set to tame the teeter-totter

Contemplating the stairs to the slide

Hunting for her rock in the sandbox

Passionate about balls, a budding young striker develops her dribbling skills

Giving her beloved soccer ball some love

Exchanging a handful of flowers

Seeking comfort from Nanna

Getting a closer look at the curious case of the blue chair in the pond

Making their way home after another long, warm, sunny afternoon in their favorite park

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